Anticipating the facts
November 9, 2009
In the course of a review of the new Satow’s Diplomatic Practice, Jeremy Greenstock, former UK ambassador to the UN, writes in the TLS: ((Not yet renamed to Times Literary, though I suppose it is only a matter of time.))
The US and the UK famously came to grief when they tried too hard, when lacking proof, to be convincing about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Those of us closely involved on the UK side believed we were illustrating a case that was bound to turn out to be true when the final evidence was collected. But it never was; and we had to take the rap for anticipating the facts.
Diplomatic language, of course, is celebrated for its litotes and subtly playful oxymoron, ((The phrase non-paper, also used by Greenstock in his review, is a particularly nice term of art.)) and here I believe that Greenstock has designed a masterpiece of the genre: anticipating the facts.
At first it looks like a mere exculpatory understatement, on the order of “jumping the gun”: a cover-your-ass euphemism, decorated with self-mocking paradox (things that aren’t true were never “facts”, anticipated or not). Yet the chronology implied in anticipating the facts is of course devastating: to say that the claims of the existence of WMD were anticipating the facts is to say that those claims (of certain knowledge of the weapons’ existence) were made before the facts were known. And so Greenstock is confirming — in the most delicate possible way! — what was already known but bears repeating: that the US and UK lied (about what they knew to be the case versus what they hoped “was bound to turn out to be true”).
In this way, to say that the US and UK governments were anticipating the facts is an even stronger verdict than saying the “facts were being fixed around the policy”. Greenstock’s formulation makes it clear that there were at the time no “facts” of the required sort to be had, let alone to be had and then fixed around the implacable plans for war.
What “facts” are you currrently anticipating, readers?